Friday, April 20, 2012

Khalwatiyyah Tariqah and Shah Waliullah al-Dihlawai

            The Khalwatiyyah is a popular order of Sufism that is widespread throughout the world.  Sufism itself is one of the more popular branches of Islam and has been for many centuries.  The Khalwatiyyah is important to understand because of its effects on Islamic doctrine and its history within the overall Sufi movement. 
            As is the case in the history of most religions, the origin of the Khalwatiyyah Tariqah is still of some dispute.  Most scholars believe that Umar al-Khalwati, Muhammad b. Nur al-Balisi, or al-Shirwani was the founder of the brotherhood dating back to the 13th or 14th century.[1]  It is believed this order came about roughly in the region of Persia and became popular in Anotolia under the tutelage of al-Shirwani.[2] A distinct feature of the Khalwatiyyah is that it was leaderless for much of its history, at least in principle. 
            The Khalwattiyah never organized a physical headquarters or came under the rule of strict ideology.[3]  Through successive centuries the Khalwatiyyah grew and spread west.  New branches sprang from this growth including specific orders for individual nations or regions.  The Khalwatiyyah flourished in Turkey during the Ottoman Empire in the 17th century.[4]  As Sufism grew, so did the Khalwatiyyah order.  This order branched out into other influential orders such as the Kamaliyyah, Jamaliyyah, and the Bakhshiyyah, which still continue to this day.[5]  The Khalwatiyyah has become less influential in the past century because it was essentially ordered void in 1925 by many Sufis.  However, surviving branches along with important teachings continue on.[6]  Much of what we know about the Khalwatiyyah is found in its doctrines and teachings which is discussed in further detail below.

Key Figures
            As mentioned above, the founders of the Khalwatiyyah were principally Umar al-Khalwatti and later al-Shirwani.  Al-Shirwani played an important role in taking the initial tribe and spreading its influence across a large area.  Al-Shirwani oversaw the branching out of many new tribes of Khalwatiyyah across Africa and even Europe.[7]  In the 18th and 19th century Kamal al-Din al-Bakri played a key role in spreading new branches to southern Asia and further East in other Arab regions.[8]  Al-Bakri led the movement by adding to Sufi teachings and writing hundreds of books.[9]  By the time of the 20th century, much of the influential leaders were officials in local sects across the Muslim world.  The Khalwattiyah eventually broke down into an unorganized, individualistic order with different local variants and sects.

            The Khalwattiyah do not differ greatly from the generality of Sufi teachings.  Overall, Sufism puts a greater emphasis on mysticism and takes a more individual approach to spiritual righteousness.  There is less focus on legal scholars and authority figures.  The Khalwatiyyah value meditation, fasting, isolation, and other rituals that are shunned by certain conservative branches of Islam.[10]  The word khalwa means to “retreat”, thus greater emphasis is placed upon personal rebirth.  The main goal is to be on a complete path towards the prophet Muhammad.  Some regional branches of Khalwatiyyah follow a seven step process by which to become closer to Muhammad while becoming spiritually pure.[11] 

Type of Activism
            There is not much evidence for the Khalwatiyyah being a terrorist organization or deeply political at all.  Much of the Khalwatiyyah focus was on the individual and personal salvation rather than conquest or political goals.  Due to its openness to mysticism and its liberal doctrine, Sufism became very popular based on its ideas and wasn’t overtly violent or extremist compared to more reactionary or strict sects.  The Khalwatiyyah did protest on behalf of the poor for better living conditions on occasion.  The Khalwatiyyah helped with protests in Egypt in the 1800’s against British colonialism.[12]  Western influence in the region was growing and many orders felt strongly in removing this influence permanently.  Many similar tribes followed this pattern of resistance across the Muslim world.  The Khalwatiyyah order was mostly a mainstream movement that lacked official leaders but grew naturally from its popular appeal.  The movement appealed to the lower classes and the open minded alike.

Shah Waliullah al-Dihlawai
Shah Waliullah al-Dihlawai was one of the founders of neo-Sufism and played an integral role in the Sufi movement of the 18th century.  His upbringing and early biography tell of a boy genius who was chosen for greatness.[13]  It is alleged that Shah Waliullah performed miracles, memorized entire manuscripts, was fluent in several languages, and received direct revelations all before the age of 20.[14]  He trained and mastered many subjects at various madrasas in Arabia and began to form and teach his own opinions. 
According to John Obert Voll, Waliullah’s career “was a high point in the evolution of Islam that had been set in motion by the rise of the Moghuls and the emergence of Naqshbandiyyah revivalism, and on the other hand, his work provided the foundation for virtually every major Muslim movement in India since that time.[15]  Waliullah was one of the most important figures in the world of Islam and his impact can be felt in the reform movement of the 18th century.  As opposed to the seemingly more liberal Sufis, Waliullah was a reactionary fundamentalist that wanted to reconcile the differences of Islam.[16]  Waliullah rejected some of the more mystical aspects of Sufism and focused more on the Qur’an and the Hadith.  With this view, he appealed to more conservative believers and preached a more legalistic approach to Islam that centered around scholars. 
Much of what Waliullah left behind became the basis for future actions.  He did not himself organize a headquarters or any direct attempt to create a movement.  Waliullah’s focus was on his teachings and literary works.  After his death in 1762 his ideas were continued and put into action by his followers.[17]  These followers interpreted many of his ideas militaristically and became politically engaged.[18]  Waliullah turned the attention of Muslims back to the fundamental foundations of Islam’s existence.  The Qur’an and the Hadith were the only real sources of knowledge and those who thought otherwise were not true believers.  This renewed focus on the original documents was a sort of purification process for multiple Islamic reform movements in the 18th century.  This led to schools and institutions of higher learning that focused strictly on these documents.  His beliefs are still practiced today and have had a large impact on Islam as a whole.

[1] F de. Jong, Khalwatiyyah, 2012, available from>.
[2] Philtar, Khalwatiyyah, 1999, available from
[3] Ibid.
[4] Shems Friedlander, A Note on the Khalwatiyyah-Jarrahiyyah Order, available from
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Nikki R. Keddie, Scholars, Saints, and Sufis (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1972), 401.
[10] Philtar, Khalwatiyyah.
[11] Shems Friedlander, A Note on the Khalwatiyyah-Jarrahiyyah Order.
[12] Frederick De Jong, Sufi Orders in Ottoman and Post-Ottoman Egypt and the Middle East (Istanbul: Isis Press, 2000),  274.
[13] Enterprise Team, Shah Wali Ullah, 2011, available from
[14] Ibid.
[15] John Obert Voll, Continuity and Change in the Modern World (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1994), 58.
[16] John Obert Voll, Continuity and Change in the Modern, 59.
[17] Enterprise Team, Shah Wali Ullah.
[18] John Overt Voll, Continuity and Change in the Modern, 61.

Annotated Bibliography
De Job, Frederick. Sufi Orders in Ottoman and Post- Ottoman Egypt and the Middle East (Istanbul, Turkey: Isis Press, 2000), 274.

Enterprise Team. “Shah Wali Ullah [1703-1762].” Story of Pakistan, 2011. February 18 2012.

            This source was important for the upbringing and history of Waliullah.  It also talked about the impact and scope of his literary work as well as some of his personal characteristics.

Friedlander, Shems. “A Note on the Khalwatiyyah-Jarrahiyyah Order.” Halveti-Jerrahi Tariqah: Traditional Sufi Order. 19 February 2012.

            This source examined many aspects of the Khalwatiyyah including the history and some more modern ideas.  This was helpful when discussing the growth and ideas of the tribe.

Jong,”Khalwatiyya.” Encyclopedia of Islam, Second Edition. Edited by: P. Bearman; , Th. Bianquis; , C.E. Bosworth; , E. van Donzel; and W.P. Heinrichs. Brill, 2012. Brill Online. University of Utah. 06 February 2012>.

Keddie, Nikki R. Scholars, Saints, and Sufis (Los Angeles, California: University of California Press, 1972), 401.

PHILTAR, University of Cumbria. “Khalwatiyyah.” Overview of World Religion. 1999. University of Cumbria. 19 February 2012.
This source was used for some of the Khalwatiyyah doctrines and teachings.  The history and background was also useful to look at.

Voll, John Obert. Continuity and Change in the Modern World, Second Edition (Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1994), 58-61.
This source was used for research on Waliullah.  Much of his history and background are focused upon in this book.

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